muscorum queen.jpg

Sustainable Skerries are pleased to announce a Public Consultation / Information event for their proposed Biodiversity Action Plan for the town, as funded by the Community Foundation of Ireland.

Due to the corona virus situation this cannot be done in the traditional face to face manner and will take the form of a Zoom meeting instead.  The meeting is scheduled for 8pm, Weds 13th Jan.  Meeting invitation and log-in details can be found on our Eventbrite page.

We want, and need, the help and support of the whole town on this so we will be delighted if you can make it.

Those not yet familiar with the plan might also like to read these posts on the site prior to the meeting:

This will greatly facilitate your understanding of what we propose and improve both your questions and input on the night, all of which are welcome.

There will be plenty of opportunity for the audience to be actively engaged. The more, the better! Let’s put our heads together and see what we can do.

Hope to see you there!

Stop press: We are delighted that Dr Una FitzPatrick of Biodiversity Ireland has agreed to zoom in and talk to us about biodiversity and pollinators! Don’t forget to sign up and zoom in on Wed 13 Jan 2021, from 8 p.m. – the Zoom link will be mailed out on the day to all who have signed up by the day before.

Charlie Heasman; 6th Jan 2021

I was somewhat taken aback to be asked this question by a colleague recently. We all know that globally we are seeing species extinction at an alarming and accelerating rate and that it really might be a good idea to do something about it. We have driven this change; now we must save what we can.

But if this person could ask that question there are probably others who might ask the same. Thus this post.

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Regular visitors to this site will know that Sustainable Skerries are involved in formulating a Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) for the town. They will also know that the primary focus of the Plan is the conservation and protection of pollinators, in line with the National Pollinator Plan run by the National Biodiversity Data Centre.

The poster child of the National Pollinator Plan is a bumblebee. This leads many people to suppose that it is all about bees. It is not, any more than the iconic panda symbol means that the WWF is concerned with saving the panda and nothing else.

Bumblebees are hugely important wild pollinators, but in this case they are more than that. They are also a very useful indicator species. Because they are large and distinctive they are (relatively!) easy to see and count. By recording them over time we can get an idea of which way their numbers are heading, up or down. It can be assumed that other much smaller and harder to see insects will probably also be going in the same direction. And they are all important with their own roles to play.

So let’s look at the Skerries bumblebees for a moment.

Ireland has 21 species; we have seven. That’s actually pretty good going; in many places you’d be hard pressed to find three or four. Of those species all but one belong to the so-called “Big Six”, the six most common species found here. The same applies across the water in the UK, ( although they now often talk about their “Big Seven” because the European Tree Bee has now firmly established itself there – in Ireland we have so far had only a few early and tentative sightings).

The Big Six, and let’s ditch the Latin names for the moment, are:

Buff tailed bumblebee

Early bumblebee

Red tailed bumblebee

White tailed bumblebee

Garden bumblebee

Common carder bee

The seventh is known as the Large (or Moss) carder bee and is in strong decline across all of its range of Northern Europe, the UK and Ireland. Here in Skerries we have a significant residual population; walk past Loughshinny in one direction, Balbriggan in the other, or even out towards Lusk and you won’t find them. This is the bee I would like to see us save.

Bumblebees, like everything else, can be divided up all sorts of ways. In the case of the bees it can be done by tongue length. The first four of the Big Six listed above can be classified as short tongued, the other two plus the Moss carder are long tongued.

So why’s this important?

Because a long tongued bee feeds on different flowers to short tongued bees.

Moss Carder bee putting its long tongue to good use

The Buff tailed bee at the top of the list above is probably our most successful. It is a large bee with a short tongue. This means it can feed on a wide range of open faced flowers. And it does. This no doubt goes a long way to explaining its success; it’s robust, it’s not fussy, and takes every opportunity that comes its way. It’s also the horticulturalist’s bee of choice when it comes to importing artificial nests into glasshouses to pollinate tomatoes and strawberries, which it does far better than any other can, honeybees included. But when it comes to beans it is worse than useless; its tongue is not long enough to reach down into the flower. In fact when hard pressed a Buff tail will bite through the neck of the flower to get at the nectar, thus bypassing the pollination process and ensuring that the flower does not produce a bean.

That’s just one example of why we need species diversity. There are a myriad others but let’s talk about plants for a moment.

Plants have evolved to have flowers for one purpose and one purpose only; and it’s not to make the countryside look pretty. It is to attract pollinators which will facilitate the transfer of pollen from one flower to another, thus fertilising it.

So the more pollinators a flower can attract the better, right? Actually, no.

It is totally useless for, say, clover to be visited by a bee that has been busy all day on apple blossom. The two types of pollen are simply not compatible. It can be in the plant’s best interests to keep certain pollinators out and only let certain species in, the chances of a good pollen match are thus improved. Clover has managed to achieve this by having deep tubed flowers which the Buff tail can’t reach, thus saving its pollen and nectar for a specialist long tongued bee which is more likely to be carrying clover pollen.

Newly hatched Burnet Moth, Ballast Pit

Some plants choose to be serviced not by bees but by moths. A white summer flower will likely be one such example. Moths tend to fly at night, so a burst of perfume to guide them in and a luminescent bloom to zero in on does the trick.

There are examples beyond number of these partnerships in nature and we are only beginning to understand a few of them. We simply cannot afford to be blasé and say “oh, that one doesn’t matter, there’s another that looks like it, it can do the same job”. One wouldn’t look at a construction site and remark that an electrician looks a lot like a plumber: “oh, we can afford to lose the electricians, the plumbers can do their job instead”. Construction sites don’t work that way and neither does nature.

I’ll leave this amidst anguished howls from readers by asking, why bother to save the Panda? After all there are plenty of other bear sized bears we can look at. The answer is that the Panda is cute and cuddly and we all love it; me too, don’t worry. But the fact is that if the Panda was to disappear tomorrow the ecological impact would be next to nothing.

Pollinators are another matter; if they go we go.

Finally – a recycling possibility for crisp packets!

Many of us have a packet of crisps every now and then. Sadly, those packets are unrecyclable in our current green bin service, adding to our waste load. Aside from minimizing plastic in our shopping and making sustainable choices when possible, there’s one more thing we could do now to contribute to minimizing waste in Skerries.

Thumbnail for The Crisp Packet Recycling Scheme

Sustainable Skerries have set up a TerraCycle account, which we hope will help our town be a bit more sustainable by collecting and recycling those crisp packets..

TerraCycle’s stated mission is Eliminating the Idea of Waste® by recycling the “non-recyclable.” Whether it’s coffee capsules from your home, pens from a school, or plastic gloves from a manufacturing facility, TerraCycle can collect and recycle almost any form of waste. With the help of the public, they are able to divert millions of pounds of waste from landfills and incinerators each month.

And Sustainable Skerries are getting involved now, too. We have decided to start with the TerraCycle Crisp Packet Recycling Scheme, which we are setting up with the very welcome support of Moriarty’s SuperValu Skerries. We hopefully will be adding more drop off points in the new year.

The Terracycle box will be set up at the back of the tills in SuperValu. Accepted items are all sizes of crisp, tortilla chips, quinoa/hummus/lentil crisps and individual snack packets of any brand. Not accepted items are popcorn bags, snack bars, biscuit wrappers or any other non crisp packet like item. Items should be completely emptied before placing in the TerraCycle box.

If all goes well, we hope to add more available recycling programs in the future. Another big benefit for our community is that, with every drop off into our Terracycle box, our account will earn points, which then in turn we will transfer to our local chosen charity, which in this case is St Michael’s Special School.

We hope this is another step in helping the community manage their waste in a more sustainable manner and also help charities in need. Each of your drop offs will be greatly appreciated

Celebrating all that is good food in Skerries.
Seasonal. Local. Organic. Waste-Minimising.
Let’s see how much of that is available locally!
Our food. Our environment. Our health.
Our first Sustainable Skerries Food Festival!
Online and all around Skerries Mills…
(safely distanced of course)
Provisional date: Sat 24 and Sun 25 April 2021.
And remember – you heard it here first!

Charlie Heasman; 5/12/20

Ballast Pit orchids plus photobombing butterfly

So what does the Ballast Pit mean to you? What does it mean to the people of Skerries generally?

Ask the question and be prepared for the usual barrage of negative keywords:

Wasteground; Untidy; Antisocial behaviour; Litter; Cans; Something should be done about it, etc, etc.

Some would disagree of course, notably dog walkers, who at least have one last refuge in which they can let their pooches off the lead for exercise and a jolly good sniff around without anyone complaining. For at least a short while once a day in their lives the dogs are untethered and free to follow the innermost exhortations of their souls.

I like dogs; always have, and have owned a good few in my time. But don’t anymore; it’s not worth the hassle.

Once upon a time owning a dog was straightforward: you acquired a mutt of something like the right breed and size, looked after it and threw sticks, thereby enjoying loyal, unconditional affection. Now it’s all microchips, licences, astronomical vet’s bills which you wouldn’t spend on your granny, grooming; nail clipping and expensive dental work which the old girl’s never going to get and, heaven forbid, black plastic poo bags which you subsequently hang on the hedge. Granny would be mortified!

These days I’m quite content to pet other people’s dogs (with their permission of course; you can’t be too careful in this day and age) and smile inwardly when I see someone walking their dog in the Ballast Pit.

So that’s dog walking covered; what about the rest?

Peacock butterfly, Ballast Pit

Let’s deal with drinking.

It used to be colloquially known as k*****r drinking, which we’re not allowed to say in print anymore though most of you still do in private. Let’s call it “the illicit consumption of alcohol in an outdoor urban setting by underage youths”, which has the twin disadvantages of not rolling off the tongue at all well and failing to address the fact that youthesses(?) might also be involved.

It happens. In the Ballast Pit. So what?

Does the Ballast Pit actually cause this? If it were not there would the ‘problem’ go away? I think not.

I’m going to have to be careful here not to be seen as condoning underage drinking. I am not. What I am saying is that it exists, always has done and in all probability always will. There will be very few reading this who can hold their hands up and claim in all honesty that they never did it themselves. I know I can’t.

Where I was fortunate was that I never had to indulge in the standing-around-shivering-in-the-long-grass business. During my teenage years I lived in rural Mid-Wales. If my 17 year old self fancied a pint on a Friday night he could leave the farm and walk up and cross the open hill, dropping down into the village of nearby Aberedw and the Seven Stars pub. There he would sup on a bottle or two of Mann’s Brown in the company of the old boys who seemed to have lived in the place forever and were both intrigued by, and were possibly pleased with, his unexpected company.

If he took one too many the journey home might take a little longer.

One such night provided an unexpected surprise.

This was exactly 50 years ago but I remember it as clearly as if it was yesterday. The night was quite light with a fullish moon obscured by cloud, but certainly enough to steer by. Having crested the hill and now dropping down into terrain that I knew well I came across a rock in the bracken that I knew had no business being there. So I stopped. The rock moved and raised a black and white striped head which revealed it to be a large boar badger. The two of us stood there not three feet apart regarding each other for ages before he finally got bored and shuffled off. I went home to bed and got up for work the next morning; presumably the badger did something similar.

Moving ahead some 25 years, and now in Skerries, my own son was of underage drinking age and he and his mates were the sort that the Gardai would harry out of the Ballast Pit and off the beaches. The lads meant no harm and as far as I know there was never any real trouble; certainly no arrests.

These days they all have families and respectable jobs; one’s an in-house accountant, another a schoolteacher, and my lad’s now a house-owner with a good job as an engineer, in Sustainables I’m pleased to say.

So where am I going with all this? My point is that things are not always as bad as people often make out. My son came to no harm in his time and I got to meet a badger in mine; I hope others can do similar in one of our few remaining wild places before it is gone.

Probably the best cans in the Ballast Pit; or not?

Just because drink is sometimes taken in the Ballast Pit this does not make it a bad place. In fact let’s turn this around and look at things from a different perspective. Some might say that if the Ballast Pit was not there it would be one less drinking venue and the problem would be lessened. And they’d be wrong, totally wrong. Natural surroundings do not cause anti-social behaviour. The good people around Beau Piers and the Community Centre have long been plagued by anti-social behaviour (please don’t contradict – it’s true) where there is not a bramble or gorse bush in sight. So should we demolish this obnoxious area of brick, concrete and tarmac and start again? Of course not.

Perhaps the Ballast Pit is a good thing after all? At least it’s removing the noise and disturbance away from people’s front doors? The residents of Selskar and Skerries Rock can breathe a sigh of relief.

And here lads, you lager swilling louts, is where you don’t get let off the hook: by all means have a good time – although please bear in mind that we are in the middle of a pandemic – but if you can manage the strength and physical effort to carry full cans in, can’t you at least manage to carry the empties back out? It’s your environment, your future. Mine’s mostly over; yours is just beginning. There are people who have been cleaning up after you, the Ballast Pit has been near spotless all summer. Until Halloween, when it filled up with rubbish again overnight. Like this:

Nice one Lads!!

Now it’s clean again. Your Mammies and Daddies won’t always be here to wipe your arses, you might just have to learn to do it yourselves.

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So there’s the negatives; it would be nice to look at the positives.

Let’s talk about the Ballast Pit in terms of ‘waste ground’. What is it and what do we mean by the term?

Obviously we mean ground that is not being used; is going to waste. But why? Because we have not yet mown it down, sanitised it or built something on it?

Let’s just re-imagine that it could be a last refuge of what we have systematically set out to destroy, of nature that we have come to think we can dominate and suppress because we are so damned clever that we can. But we can’t.

There is a growing awareness that we are in fact part of nature and that we need it whether we care to admit it or not. And not just on the spiritual ‘lay down under a tree’ Hippie level; we literally need it for our very survival as a species. And for decades now we’ve been doing our level best to destroy it.

As towns have increased in population and size they have spread and engulfed more land, and we lament the loss of agricultural land. The Ballast Pit was never farmland and was therefore even more likely to be built on. So far it has had a couple of narrow escapes and we’re lucky it’s still there.

We may feel guilty about the continued sprawl and expansion of our urban areas and yet it would be fair to say that in many regards our towns and villages support far more wildlife per hectare than the farmland that surrounds them. They have in effect become miniature nature reserves in their own right.

Modern intensive agriculture is not conducive to biodiversity. Hedge removal for bigger, more efficient fields; mono-culture; herbicides and pesticides have all combined to drive nature out of the countryside. There is little or no room for it anymore. Take a drive round the fields of Fingal next summer and have a good look for yourself.

By contrast urban gardens are full of insect life, particularly the pollinators that we now know we so desperately need and cannot do without. Gardens that are managed, either wholly or in part, for pollinators are even better. Once you have the insects back, plus seeds left to ripen, you start getting the birds back. It’s begins to self-perpetuate.

Planted for polinators.

But I digress. As important as town gardens are, they are not the subject of this post: the Ballast Pit is.

The great thing about the Ballast Pit is that it does all this by itself.

You might think that it is just full of brambles and Ivy. Okay, but brambles produce flowers for pollinators in summer and berries for birds and everything else in autumn. Ivy flowers in autumn for late pollinators and produces berries for birds in winter. Both are excellent cover and nesting habitat.

Knapweed, an important pollinator plant

And then there are the parts that are neither bramble or ivy; quite a lot of them too.

This summer my wife and I armed ourselves with mobile phones and plant identification apps and found close on 200 plant species without trying too hard and certainly without the aid of a microscope. We were surprised to find flax (as in the stuff Irish linen was made from) and we photographed Pyramidial Orchids. Later we found out that the latter are only found on one other site in Fingal: Newbridge Park.

Apart from the rarities there are many other once common wildflowers that are now not so common. In summer the banks are ablaze. The place is also full of butterflies and bumblebees, on account of the rich flora. Chief amongst these is the Small Blue Butterfly, on the endangered list and now found in only a handful of other locations in Ireland. There is also the Large Carder Bee, it too endangered, a bumblebee which has disappeared from most of the country and whose numbers are declining year on year, and one that we are currently engaged in trying to save.

The Small Blue: it may be brown on top, but it’s blue underneath. Honest!

There’s lots more but that’s enough for now. It’s pretty miserable at this time of year but next spring and summer go take a look for yourself with freshly opened eyes. You will be surprised what you see.

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*It couldn’t be done this year because of covid, but next year I would hope to be able to organise small groups for biodiversity walking tours. Fingers crossed.

Are you interested in sustainable energy solutions for Skerries? Would you like to discuss ideas and work towards achieving sustainable energy projects that benefit the community? We are a newly formed initiative, started by Sustainable Skerries, and we would love for people with a passion for sustainable energy to join us in the Sustainable Energy Community Initiative (SECI).

The Skerries SECI has been set up as part of the wider Energy Communities program by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. The program is set up to help engage and enable a local community to reach sustainable energy goals.

From the SEAI Website

The Skerries SECI will capture ideas and feedback from the local community and with the help of a mentor work towards moving from ideas to formulating an Energy Master Plan for Skerries which will describe specific projects that the community want to achieve. The Skerries SECI and local community will work to apply for available grants and alternative funding to help complete the projects.

You can find out more about the Sustainable Energy Communities programme at

http://www.seai.ie/community-energy/sustainable-energy-communities/

If you are interested in joining the Skerries Sustainable Energy Community Initiative and want to know more, please write to Skerries SECI chairman Michael Mullan-Jensen at skerries.seci@gmail.com.

The next group online meeting is on the 2nd of December at 8pm and we would love to see you there!

A Report on the Skerries Tree Event, November 2020

Close to 50 people zoomed in for “Two Tree Talks and a Discussion” last Thursday, organised by the Skerries Community Association, Sustainable Skerries, Skerries Tidy Towns and Crann Padraig. Most were Skerries residents, though we had visitors from as far afield as Wicklow and Malahide and Ballymun. 

We had people from the organising organisations as well as individual tree lovers and a good few who are active in the Skerries Tree Preservation Group. And then there were our two speakers, of course!

The Importance of Trees

Éanna Ní Lamhna is not only a very well-known broadcaster, author, and nature lover – she is also the vice president (and former president) of the Irish Tree Council. Éanna spoke passionately and knowledgeably about the importance of trees not just for biodiversity, but also for carbon sequestration and for mental health. She stressed that while not all trees have the same value, all trees have some value! 

Did you know that the typical oak tree supports 284 species of insects? And that the typical 10-year-old tree absorbs 22 kg of CO2 per year? Not to mention the power of good it does all of us to walk through a nice wooded landscape, or to look at mature trees on the sides of our roads.

Having said all that, the right tree in the right space is actually very important, too. Putting the seedling of a tall-growing tree species right below an overhead electricity line, for instance, is not a very good idea…

The Forest of Fingal

It seems that at the moment, Kevin Halpenny’s work is all about the trees! As the Senior Parks Superintendent with Fingal County Council, the review of the Tree Strategy for Fingal is currently a significant part of it. He gave us the background to the draft strategy, with the great name of “The Forest of Fingal,” which is currently available online. By the way, the submission period is rather long to allow everyone to consider the strategy in detail and then to have their say. A good idea, it would seem! Fingal have even created a video about the Forest of Fingal.

We particularly like the view over Skerries across the trees of Ardgillan…

We could also not agree more with the vision Kevin outlined for the tree strategy – a strategy, he stressed, which is for Fingal, not for Fingal County Council! 

Informed by the guiding principles of public health and wellbeing; climate action; sustainability and resilience; green infrastructure and nature-based solutions; environment and biodiversity; high quality provision; right tree, right place; best practice; collective action, and green equity, the aims of the strategy are:

  • Net increase of the tree canopy cover from currently 6%
  • A thriving, sustainable and diverse tree population
  • Maximum benefits of trees as an asset and a resource
  • Strong sense of ownership with residents, communities and stakeholders

And these will be achieved, hopefully, through a responsible, efficient and coherent approach to management; through tree protection and retention (for instance through bonds which builders have to guarantee in case they damage trees during their activities); through tree planting and establishment initiatives to ensure a sustainable tree population; and through community involvement, public engagement, and awareness.

The presentation went through a lot of interesting and relevant details, such as the proposed recruitment of a tree officer and tree management team to coordinate and implement the tree strategy. Another few proposed actions that resonated particularly with the audience were:

  • Putting together an online, publicly available and interactive tree inventory
  • Developing a proactive street tree management programme
  • Developing a Woodland management programme
  • Putting a monetary value on trees and their “ecosystems services,” such as carbon storage and sequestration, pollution removal, avoided runoff and replacement cost
  • Tree Preservation Orders
  • Targeted tree planting for areas deficient in tree cover; areas with ageing tree populations; sites suitable for woodland; areas where there is room to accommodate additional trees.
  • Developing proactive engagement protocols with communities and residents
  • Involving community groups in the establishment of newly planted trees in their area

As mentioned above, we are in the consultation phase of the Forest of Fingal: A Tree Strategy for Fingal.

Trees have positive effects that we are sometimes not fully aware of, such as buffering storm water and thus making flooding less severe.

There was a lot more in the presentation. It would not be practical to add more here, and yet you can see it all for yourself:  We are grateful to Kevin for having made the entire presentation available to us. It is unfortunately too large to upload here, but we will email it to you on request to sustskerries@gmail.com

Some further resources:

Treesaregood.org managed by the International Society of Arboriculture

Tree Species Selection for Green Infrastructure available as PDF here: http://www.myerscough.ac.uk/media/4932/hirons-and-sjoman-2019-tree-species-selection-for-green-infrastructure-v13.pdf

Kevin mentioned that Fingal has only 6% tree cover, vs nationally 11% – which is again very low compared with the European average, which is somewhere around 38%. 

Increasing the coverage by just one per cent would mean planting 1,000 acres with woodland!

There is a connection between green equity and equality, by the way, and Kevin stressed that social inclusion (green equity) is one of the guiding principles of the draft strategy. 

The forest of Skerries…?

As residents in a coastal town which has many mature and also many very young trees lining our various streets, but also many open green spaces with less trees than you would think, we were very interested in what both Éanna and Kevin had to say. After the two presentations, there was time for the participants to respond, first in small groups and then in the closing plenary session.

The overall response to the draft tree strategy was very positive, especially as far as its emphasis on community involvement is concerned – something that in the past seems to have been haphazard or even missing. In that context, reaching people who are not typically involved would be very important (inclusion). The Skerries Community Association is in the process of establishing a network for all neighbourhood and residents’ groups, which could become very useful in this context! 

Many also mentioned the need for concrete targets for increasing the tree cover in Fingal.

It was noted that as yet, there is no wooded area in the town of Skerries – it might be worth identifying where a woodland could be planted, complete with walkways, cycle routes, seats and other features, maybe even an outdoor classroom…

Some mentioned the fields around the Mills as possible areas that could be planted; others mentioned that some open spaces in the many estates would offer themselves, while taking into consideration the fact that some people do not like trees by their houses, that some areas are used by children to play, and that trees might impact on the view from people’s homes, especially those lovely sea views some have… Even taking all this into consideration there is quite an amount of space available on all of the green spaces in the town.

Also, replacing trees which were taken out in estates, who were planted and didn’t survive / were vandalised over the past number of years with more suitable trees is something residents are looking for.

The potential of trees for flood alleviation found a lot of interest, as well as the idea of having a comprehensive map of all the trees in our town. Perhaps local people, or even the secondary school, could be involved in recording the existing trees?! It’d be great if there was some way for people to get info on all individual trees on their phones, maybe via a QR code!

People called for an emphasis on native species, and hedgerows were mentioned a few times as well – if possible, they ought to be included in the tree strategy, it was said.

Could fruit and nut trees be included in the palette of trees for future planting? Kevin said that they would indeed be part of the new strategy. In residential open spaces they can do quite well; in streets, ornamental pear trees or crab apples can cause problems with slipping. However, fruit and nut trees should be increased in general – they are also good for pollinators. And he added that Fingal bye laws now allow for foraging in parks and open spaces!

Another question put to Kevin was whether there are trees which would thrive in coastal locations and which could help secure the sand dunes. Indeed, there are: In France, along the Atlantic coast, for instance, the Black Pine (Pinus nigra) is used to stabilise the dunes – an issue especially for Rush, but also for Skerries as there are only few trees close to our coast.

As for community involvement, Kevin mentioned that Fingal Co Council would be positively disposed towards a tree stewardship program as they happen elsewhere (someone mentioned New York City) – this would also be positive with regards to social inclusion / cohesion. He praised the great involvement by many of the community in Skerries, some as individuals, others as parts of the Skerries Tree Preservation Group, Sustainable Skerries, Skerries Tidy Towns and the Skerries Community Association, who all had volunteers out watering trees during the drought, which certainly saved many of them.

More tree events for Skerries would certainly be welcome – online as needed, in real life as possible, and possibly a mini forest community planting event! 

On behalf of the organisers, Michael McKenna, chair of the Skerries Community Association, ended the event thanking the two main speakers and all attendees for their time and participation.  He added: “We are very interested in getting a really inclusive input into the Fingal Tree Strategy. Tonight was a great start in this process.”

Now have your say in the Tree Strategy!

You can see the draft Tree Strategy, and a few first submissions, online here: https://consult.fingal.ie/en/consultation/forest-fingal-tree-strategy-fingal

First preparations have already taken place for a possible follow-up event closer to the end of the consultation process (i.e. early 2021) … keep your eyes peeled! If you want to be kept in the loop, we encourage you to subscribe to the Sustainable Skerries email newsletter, where we will certainly send out any further information.

Although Halloween this year will be under very different circumstances, it should still be possible to give everyone an experience that suits the current HSE guidelines, and at the same time retains a sense of excitement and earning treats. Here are a few suggestions: 

👻On the day, family units could go on a “ghost walk” and look at the Halloween decorations around town and could turn this into a “trick-or-treat” type thing in one of the following ideas:

  • Make a “ghost walk bingo card” with things for the kids to spot (e.g. a mummy, a spider, a bloody axe, etc) and reward each first spot of something on the card with a treat.
  • Or just go to the houses in your area. Put a treat in the Trick or Treat bag for every properly decorated house!

👻 If you prefer staying in our own home or garden for activities, how about making a candy graveyard (cereal boxes work especially well for being made into tombstones) or other settings for a “Treat Scavenger Hunt” where the kids have to search for the treats?! We also found this in the super Skerries against Covid-19 Facebook group, thank you for sharing, Sally Anne Lalor, and for encouraging others to share your post…

Heard this on the Ray D’Arcy show yesterday. Loved it and thought I’d share for those with kids/grandkids who can’t trick or treat this year.

A father texted the show to say he broke the news to his six yr old that they can’t do it this year. The child was naturally disappointed 😥 and asked his dad could they do it at home. He & his dad could knock on every door in the house and “mammy could open the door & give me sweets”

That boy will go far!! Feel free to share ❤

Sally Anne Lalor, on Skerries Against Covid-19
👻

Some tricks for your treats! 

So now that you, if you are parents, seem to be in charge of your children’s Halloween loot this year, you might be able to get some really nice things for them!

Why not consider something with less wrapping than you normally find in Halloween bags, or even locally made seasonal fare, such as the Halloween-themed Macaron selection by Monsieur Macaron, available at Olive’s, or treats from the weekly Skerries’ Farmer’s Market?!?

Empowering our community towards a sustainable and resilient future for Skerries – that’s the mission of Sustainable Skerries. Together with other committees, groups, and individuals, we work towards improving resilience in the town of Skerries: that capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; that ability to bounce back. We seek to do this through a focus on the systems of our town, as they relate to climate change, food, waste, water, energy, and skills sharing.

For the last twelve months, that has meant:

Climate Change. Can you imagine that it was just a year ago that we hosted Afloat, the climate-change play by Sunday’s Child, in the Little Theatre? The play made us laugh, confronted us with many uncomfortable facts, and raised many questions about climate breakdown, climate anxiety and consumer guilt, friendship and the wider picture of the role of governments and big business. Thus a perfect start to our year!

Waste / Upcycling / Skill Sharing. Repair Cafés are all about skill transfer – people who know how to sew / mend clothes / fix things show those who would like to be able to do that. In October 2019 we were the proud recipients of a Fingal Greener Communities Award in the Up Cycling Category in recognition of our first Repair Café!  Our second Repair Café took place in the Little Theatre as well, in November 2019. As it was coming up to Christmas, seasonal crafts (Christmas cards, centrepieces made from nature, paper decorations and much more) were added to the upcycling of clothes and jewellery-making.

Further Repair Cafés had been planned for April and for later this year, but had of course to be cancelled. Pity. Watch out for our first online Repair Café over the next few weeks though! 

Biodiversity. Pollinators and especially bumble bees are central to biodiversity. Sustainable Skerries, in cooperation with Skerries Tidy Towns, has been able to obtain the funds to carry out a biodiversity study that will lead to a biodiversity plan for Skerries. The plan itself is in line with the National Pollinator Plan guidelines as run by the National Biodiversity Data Centre (NBDC) and is aimed at reversing the decline of pollinators in general, bumblebees in particular, and one specific species even more so.  To this end we wish to establish a wildlife corridor from the South Strand and allotments at one end to Barnageeragh at the other.  This is to be achieved by the establishment of wildflower meadows, reduction of pesticide and herbicide use, the rethinking of corners of mown grassland and a change of mowing regimes for roadside verges.  Much of this will depend on agreement with FCC as the largest landowner (we are told they are amenable but we are still waiting for a long promised site meeting), but it will also depend on the goodwill and support of the town as a whole.  We are working with Skerries Allotments to establish three areas of wildflowers around the site and have partnered with the Educate Together School to establish a meadow there.  Both expected to be seeded in the coming week or two.

Coincidentally, FCC are also in the process of establishing a wildflower meadow just out past the water treatment works.  All of this gives us a good solid backbone for our corridor; now we just need to join the dots. 

A Muscorum queen.

Did you know that there is a special bumble bee in Skerries which is the Large Carder Bee, Bombus Muscorum?  We have identified four areas in which it is to be found: South Strand, Allotments, Ballast Pit and a small population near Skerries Point.  This would appear to be way above the National average and puts us in a unique position to do something truly constructive by linking, protecting and extending these areas with our proposed corridor.

Oh, and our work for the Pollinator Initiative also fetched a Fingal Greener Communities award last October, in the Biodiversity category.

Trees. Sustainable Skerries, Skerries Tidy Towns, Crann Padraig and the Skerries Community Association got together to organise an event called “Two Tree Talks” with Éanna Ní Lamhna, The Irish Tree Council, and Kevin Halpenny, Head of Operations, Fingal County Council… for Thursday, 12 March. The day the WHO changed the status of Covid-19 to “pandemic”… Guess what? It had to be cancelled! We’re now hoping to bring it to you online, as Fingal County Council is gearing up towards drafting a new tree strategy. Look out for the announcement!

Food & Community. As it happens, the first Sustainable Skerries Global Feast was probably the last public event in the Old Schoolhouse before lockdown! Skerries people from more than a dozen different countries prepared food with an international twist – and some four dozen people came together to share a wonderful meal. This event, like some of the others we are organising this and next year, was made possible by a grant from the EU Communities Integration Fund. And it was also near-zero-waste, as everyone brought their own plates and cutlery, and brought home any food not eaten on the day. 

We of Sustainable Skerries were all set to plan more such global feasts, for all of Skerries of indeed at neighbourhood level – the situation being at it is, this has not yet happened, but it would be great if as many neighbourhood groups as possible could register on the Skerries Community Association’s list of neighbourhood / residents / street groups, so that when we can get going again, we can contact them easily! We have some great ideas already.

“Our Food, our environment, our health” was the title of a food-related event that took place online in May 2020. We had two fantastic speakers, Darina Allen of Ballymaloe Cookery School and our local green councillor, Karen Power, and after their input, there was plenty of opportunity for everyone to share their reactions, views and ideas. Read more about it here. Food for thought, indeed!

Our plans for the next 12 months include 

  • Offering online Repair Cafés with different themes, 
  • Supporting sustainable neighbourhood feasts
  • Exploring the possibility of Skerries becoming a Sustainable Energy Community
  • Continuing with our work on biodiversity & the pollinator action plan
  • Preparing the first Sustainable Skerries Food Festival for April / May 2021

You want to be in the loop? Keep in touch with us!

Sustainable Skerries Committee

Chair: Sabine McKenna
Treasurer: Ernestine Woelger
Secretary: Louise Ring

Contact: sustskerries@gmail.com

PS: We would like to bid a fond farewell to our previous chair, Mary Marsden, and to our former secretary, Brónagh Ní Dhúill. Both had been founder members of Sustainable Skerries, which means they were involved for a full decade. It’s difficult to give you an idea of their contributions over the years in a few short words… and we are grateful that they will remain involved in two initiatives that were kickstarted by Sustainable Skerries over the years, Skerries Allotments and Skerries Community Garden. Brónagh and Mary, you are missed! 

Charlie Heasman; 4th Oct 2020

Large Carder Bee,; South Strand, Skerries

Back in 2019 Sustainable Skerries was awarded a grant from the Community Foundation of Ireland in order to develop a Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) for the town.

The money was to cover phase 1 of the plan: to engage the services of a professional ecologist to assist and advise the project; to conduct mapping and site surveys; liaise with landowners and stakeholders and organise a series of public information events and talks. Work was to begin in Feb 2020 and be completed by Jan 2021.

We are actually fairly well advanced with most of this except for the public meetings and talks, which have been rendered impossible with the covid situation. What’s more, the situation is not going to change in the foreseeable future and this is deeply unfortunate because it makes it very difficult to reach the very people we wish to engage with: the people of the town. The deadline has subsequently been extended to July 2021 but that is unlikely to help in this regard.

The only answer is to do everything online; whether by email, social media or our website. Welcome to this Blog post.

So what is the Plan and why?

A clue is in the title of course; another in the photo.

To start off our aim was fairly simple: to establish a National Pollinator Plan type scheme in the town.

The National Pollinator Plan is specifically intended to reverse the decline of bumblebees in Ireland and has been widely taken up by towns and communities up and down the Country. You may have already noticed the purple “Managed for Pollinators” signs from time to time.

The Plan is coordinated by the National Biodiversity Centre in Waterford and in order to gather data on bumblebee populations they encourage interested members of the public to engage in a little “citizen science” by waking monthly transects. This involves picking a route of approximately one kilometre, sticking to it, and walking it at least once a month while counting bees and recording them by both species and sex. My wife and I have been doing this for the past two years and now walk three such transects. Next year it will be four; more about that later.

Ireland has 21 species of bumblebee, some still common; others in danger of extinction. No one site will have all 21 species; you wouldn’t, for instance, expect to find a Mountain Bumblebee in the town. Four or five is pretty average; we quickly established six. Admittedly these were all members of the so-called “Big Six”, the six most common species, but it was a good start.

Red Tailed Bumblebee, one of the 6
Buff Tailed Bumblebee, another of the 6

Then in June of last year, in the Ballast Pit, we came across something we weren’t sure about: four Common Carder Bee queens all on a single clump of Kidney Vetch. We were fairly certain of the species but four queens at once? In June? We took a photo and sent it in for verification.

The reply came back that they were indeed queens but not of the Common Carder Bee, Bombus pascorum, they were the Large Carder Bee, Bombus muscorum. We’d just found a seventh species.

This might not sound too exciting until you realise that this bee is on both the Irish and European 2014 Red Bee Lists as threatened. Given that this List is six years out of date and the bee has shown an annual rate of decline of 5% ever since, it is likely that if it were reclassified tomorrow it would as endangered.

We decided to look and see if we could find it elsewhere so we took ourselves off to the South Strand. Where we found it straight away. The first photo was taken there. By a better photographer than me I might add!

It is also present in the Allotments and we’ve found a small population just out past Skerries Point.

So we have not just one, but four populations of an endangered bee in Skerries. We can safely say that all four are separate populations because this bee travels a maximum of 500 meters from the nest and these sites are a lot further apart than that.

Now take into account that Ireland is considered the last stronghold of B. muscorum in Europe, and Skerries, so far as can be ascertained by NBDC, is probably one of the last strongholds, if not the last stronghold in Ireland and it does get exciting! We are in a unique position to play a major role in saving one of Ireland’s 21 bumblebee species.

Of course, you don’t just save one. By taking the right action you help conserve everything else. Not just bumblebees but pollinators in general, birds, insects and so on. Nature tends to be pretty inclusive and all things are interlinked.

NBDC are hugely supportive of our efforts and are hoping that what we achieve in Skerries might serve as a model for other communities to follow. I would like to see Skerries put firmly on the map for its bees just as it was always famous for its seals.

So what’s the plan?

The first thing to do with scattered populations of any species is to join them up. In this way inbreeding (thought to be a contributory cause of decline in B. muscorum) is avoided and if the species dies out for any reason in one area it can be repopulated from another. The second thing to do is improve and expand its habitat.

To this end we are proposing a biodiversity corridor through the town. No bulldozers will be required so your houses are safe; we simply enhance what is already there. The Barnageeragh Road, running past the Ballast Pit and out through to the new Hamilton Hill Estate lends itself perfectly. Pre-existing wide grass verges need only a minimal change of management; planting around the base of trees rather than spraying with glyphosate (don’t get me started!), and utilisation of unused green corners will do the trick. If we can extend out in the other direction towards Townparks and the allotments we will have succeeded.

Which is better, this?
Or thisr?

As I write this things are already progressing. At one end the allotments are getting odd unused corners seeded with wildflowers and at the other end we are partnering with Educate Together to establish a wildflower meadow in the grounds of the school. The latter is particularly exciting because a) it is a fairly large area of some 1,000 sq metres and b) it is right beside the road where everyone can watch it develop.

Further down the road Fingal are independently establishing another wildflower meadow, this one just past the Water Treatment Works.

While all this is good news for our biodiversity corridor it does not preclude those who don’t live along it. Quite the opposite; everyone can play a part. If you have a garden, large or small, great! We can help with pollinator friendly planting advise. Even if you don’t have a garden you can help. We are proposing an “adopt a tree” scheme whereby people can plant round the bases. We might even be able to run a competition. This will depend on agreement from FCC; we’re impatiently waiting on a long promised meeting with them.

We cannot hold a public meeting to discuss and inform further or to get your views and input, but we can host a Zoom meeting online. If you are interested, and we really hope you are, get in touch and we’ll see how we go. email charleseheasman@gmail.com